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Thomas Damir Wegener

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Within a Total Institution, such as a Prison or Military, Outline how Individuals Negotiate their Own Positions

Coined by the American sociologist Erving Goffman, a total institution is an environment of employment or residence in which a large collection of analogous people, separated from the regularities of society for a considerable duration, collectively live an officially managed way of life. As with any social atmosphere, whether created synthetically or organically; hierarchies, groups and status are always fashioned due to the natural progression of humankinds psych e. Prison, for instance, is an excellent example of this due to the fact that despite being constantly surrounded by dangerous people, many inmates still require a sense of belonging, security and power; which are all strongly tied into many anthropological theories. In order for inmates to negotiate their position within the prison subculture; their external life, in which their crime was committed, and their soon to be sculpted views and behaviour ultimately defines where theyll fit into this total institution. When an inmate first enters prison, they are generally seen to be vulnerable to abuse, both verbal and physical, as they have little-to-no allied affiliations with other felons, which constitutes protection. The adage safety in numbers can be readily applied to prison subculture, which is why gangs form as to provide safety for one another, and to assert dominance. Besides gang association, severity and category of crime can also be a precursor as to how inmates fall into general prison hierarchy; "There's something of an informal pecking order in prison with guys who commit the most violent crimes higher up in the order and sex offenders, especially paedophiles, pretty far down" (River Front Times 2011). Indeed hierarchies vary from prison to prison, though generally the ladder trends as follows. Major thieves and

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murderers tend to be seen as those at the top of this makeshift chain (River Front Times 2011). Thieves are subcategorized according to the weapon used; there were wagon breakers who had used knives or other weapons; and there were thieves who had used handmade bombs. There was respect for those who had committed crimes in an intelligent way. Petty thieves were not respected (Higgs n.b.). Murderers gain a high position due to the fear that they incite in other inmates, because of their dangerous demeanour. Prominent drug offenders also have an elevated regard as they are often associated with gangs, which resembles protection, and also because of many inmates being substance abusers, they demonstrate respect towards those affiliated with drug pushing in hope of drug and/or cigarette attainment. In Victorian prisons, almost one in four people tested behind bars is high on drugs smuggled inside jails (Rolfe 2012). At the low end of the hierarchy are individuals that many of the other inmates detest and make prison life much more difficult than it already is. Rapists and paedophiles are often targeted by other offenders due to their extreme level of callousness. Also, because the other offenders have children or perhaps were abused at a young age, they attack chesters1 as a form of revenge or for vigilante reasoning. Often, sex offenders must be segregated from the general prison population as they are hastily targeted once their past crimes have been discovered. An anthropological theory that can be applied to aid perception of prison culture mechanics and individual social standings is schismogenesis. The first form, known as symmetrical schismogenesis involves two different groups exhibiting mimicry and intensification of behaviour towards one another which constructs a positive feedback system. For example, groups founded upon racial hate and discrimination, such as the American gang The Aryan Brotherhood are known for
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Prison slang for paedophile.

Thomas Damir Wegener

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their unrelenting violence towards non-white races, and are extreme antagonists in symmetrical schismogenesis. Since prisoners tend to segregate themselves by race, white supremacist gangs may appear more attractive to new white inmates, especially those seeking protection, than they would outside penitentiary walls (Anti Defamation League 1998). This exploration for protection is equally applied to nonCaucasian felons also. Inmates already sympathetic to racist ideology become more radical in their beliefs in the racially charged prison environment (Anti Defamation League 1998). Of course, attacked gangs will often retaliate once assaulted, which nourishes the positive feedback system and causes much injury and often, inmate death. On the other hand of schismogenesis perches the asymmetrical form. This version of schismogenesis involves submission and dominance. In prison, gang members may ask lower ranking members to do particular tasks from passing on messages or contraband, to assailing other inmates. In the case that the person being asked to perform an action yields and indeed carries it out; does so as to either keep their current position or attempt to climb higher in their immediate hierarchy. Outside of internal gang collaboration, gangs or regular felons may try to use asymmetrical schismogenesis as to assert their authority over those that arent as powerful as them, which helps to solidify or greaten their status in the eyes of the subordinates and witnesses. There are various ways in which prisoners attain particular things that they want. Although physical money is not allowed into prison walls, inmates may have money transferred into an account which they can use to buy basic goods while imprisoned (Justice 2010). These goods can then be used as a type of currency to gain things such as protection, respect (through the application of gift giving),

Thomas Damir Wegener

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cigarettes, food, drugs, sexual alleviation, gambling collateral, playing cards, shanks2 etc. Moreover, each of the mentioned materials or proceedings can be interchangeably used as however the vendor or purchaser see fit. The use of fish by prisoners to create their own economy is a reminder that virtually anything can be used as currency. Unfortunately using something like mackerel as a currency has a huge downside in that it isn't valuable to anyone outside of prison, except perhaps as an afternoon snack. This highlights one of the biggest problems with underground economies, often times there is no easy way for the given currency to be exchanged for a more useful or widely accepted form of money (Smith 2008). Inmates who exchange commodities and favours fairly with one another have a much higher chance of being seen as reputable and consistent within the prison subculture. This is positive for the inmate as it will lower probabilities of assailment and strengthens alliances with those who deal with him. History has shown that when humans are put into situations that involve subordinate and dominant/aggressively advancing entities, the likelihood of resistance or eventual resistance is sufficiently high. The reasons for instigating resistance or rebellion vary sufficiently, though often, the primary goal that is sought after is change. Within prison, resistance is often seen between inmates and other inmates, inmates and guards, and a resistance struggle between inmates and suitable cultural norms, which is why they have found themselves incarcerated. As prison violence is frequently used between criminals to determine hierarchy, its only natural that those being attacked attempt to resist as to not only protect themselves physically, but also to present themselves as not being weak and an easy target in the future. There is no statistical reporting system for injuries in prison, but best
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Primitive weapon constructed from simple objects like toothbrushes and shards of glass etc.

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estimates are that tens of thousands of serious assaults occur each year. Prisons have a more widespread problem with instances of sexual abuse. The American Stop Prisoner Rape organisation estimate that one-fourth of inmates experience at least one forced sex episode during their institutionalised stay. In a 2001 article, "The Rape Crisis Behind Bars", the New York Times estimated that more than 290,000 males are sexually assaulted behind bars every year, and many victims report single incidents becoming daily assaults. Another organization put the daily estimate at 60,000 unwanted sexual acts per day (Stevens 2008). This shows that many inmates continually have to assert resistance towards unsavoury advances, whether triumphant or not. Resisting itself indeed does not always guarantee safety and success, though the act of standing up against an attacker can sometimes be just as psychologically powerful. A rite of passage is a form of ritualistic event that signifies a persons transition from one state to another. Throughout the life of a prisoner, they may go through various rites of passages to find out where they see themselves belonging in the bigger scheme of things. In order to negotiate their own personal positions they may decide to work within the prison, doing tasks such as floor mopping, serving food in the mess hall, maintenance activities etc. Others may choose on starting, or furthering their education by enrolling in Correctional Education programs, which offer teaching of various subjects to prisoners. To those afforded the opportunity to further their education, it "may be the first glimmer of hope that [they] can escape the cycles of poverty and violence that have dominated their lives" (Erisman & Contardo 2005). Pursuing an education can also undo some of the damage accrued during their stay in prison; it can awaken senses numbed and release creativity that is both therapeutic and rehabilitative (Piche 2008). While employment and education are
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healthy paths and passages of rites to follow to ground themselves with prison walls, often, as mentioned, inmates will associate themselves with a gang, which also incurs its own types of rituals. Generally, to enter a prison gang one must endure a type of initiation that is often very dangerous. Crews employ the initiation rite as a way of gauging if the potential member is suitably psychologically and physically tough enough to earn a membership. A phrase that gangs, especially those in prison hold close to their hearts is Blood In Blood Out. Blood In refers to the fact that blood, either that of the inductee or of a gangs rival must be spilt to represent a deep respect and devotion. Blood out signifies that the only way to leave the gang is through natural death, or at the hands of other members (Gangs Or Us 2010). The way in which inmates physically present themselves to the prison subculture plays a huge part in how they choose to negotiate their position within it. Some inmates may be quiet, adequately polite and anonymous as to not draw potentially unwanted attention to themselves. Others may be of the more boastful and aggressive nature, making their presence and dominance known, which is sometimes the mannerism of gang representation. Prison tattoos have become a very popular means of depicting particular things that the wearer has done or been through, and therefore letting the observers know personal information about the inmate just by looking at him. As typical tattoo facilities arent available in prison, illegal makeshift tattoo guns are assembled from various parts such as the motors from tape players/walkmans, paperclips, guitar string, plastic tape and rubber bands (Faketattoo 2008). Many tattoos hold personal and enigmatic significance to the wearer, but numerous prison tattoos have a predetermined definition. Within Russian prisons barbed wire tattooed across the forehead signifies a sentence of life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Monasteries, cathedrals, castles, and
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fortresses are often tattooed on the chest, back, or hand. The number of spires or towers can represent the years a prisoner has been incarcerated, or number of times they have been imprisoned. The phrase, "The Church is the House of God," often inscribed beneath a cathedral, has the metaphorical meaning, "Prison is the Home of the Thief." A spider or spider's web symbolises drug addiction (Phaseloop 2006). Spider webs specifically positioned on elbows indicates the wearer has murdered a minority. For various personal reasons inmates choose how they want to be seen by others through the manner in which they present oneself, whether aggressively or passively. Though analysed on a deeper scale, many inmates and even those in regular society present themselves in particular ways that not only make wordless statements to onlookers, but also to themselves and the way they see how they fit into the world around them.

Thomas Damir Wegener

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References
Garrison, C 2011, Inmates Like Michael Devlin On Bottom of Prison Pecking Order, River Front Times, May 12th, viewed 1st June 2012, <http://blogs.riverfronttimes.com/dailyrft/2011/05/michael_devlin_stabbed_prison_hie rarchies.php>. Higgs, E n.b., Inmate Subcultures, The Encyclopaedia of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Georgia Gwinnett College, viewed 1st June 2012, <http://www.ggc.edu/academics/school-of-liberal-arts/docs/Inmate-SubculturesHiggs.pdf>. Rolfe, P 2012, Our prisons are full of prisoners high on drugs, Sunday Herald Sun, viewed 1st June 2012, <http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/true-crime-scene/ourprisons-are-full-of-prisoners-high-on-drugs/story-fnat7jnn-1226389951207>. Anti Defamation League 1998, Bigotry Behind Bars: Racial Groups in U.S. Prisons, viewed 2nd June 2012, <http://www.adl.org/special_reports/racist_groups_in_prisons/print.asp>. Justice 2010, Department of Justice, Prison Monies, viewed 2nd June 2012 <http://www.justice.vic.gov.au/home/prisons/prisoners/property/justice++prisoner+monies>. Smith, J 2008, Holy Mackerel! Fish Make a Slick Currency in Prison, DailyFinance, viewed 3rd June 2012, <http://www.dailyfinance.com/2008/10/06/holy-mackerel-fishmake-a-slick-currency-in-prison/>. Stevens, M 2008, Prison Issues, North Carolina Wesleyan College, viewed 3rd June 2012, <http://faculty.ncwc.edu/mstevens/111/111lect13.htm>. Erisman, W & Contardo, J.B. 2005, Learning To Reduce Recidivism: A 50-State Analysis of Postsecondary Correctional Education Policy, The Institute for Higher Education Policy. Piche, J 2008, Barriers to Knowledge Inside: Education in Prisons and Education on Prisons," Journal of Prisoners on Prisons, vol. 17, no. 1, p. 10 Gangs Or Us 2010, Background On Gang Intitiations, Robert Walkers Gangs or Us: Gang Identification and Expert Witness, viewed 4th June 2012, <http://www.gangsorus.com/initiations.html>. Fake Tattoo (2008, May 21), Hard Prison Tattoos, viewed 5th June 2012 from <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iShYwlVMHMY>. Phaseloop 2006, Russian Prison Tattoos, Foreign Prisoner Support Service, viewed 8th June 2012, <http://www.phaseloop.com/foreignprisoners/exp-russian_tats.html>